Beware – There May Be Spoilers Ahead…
It would be fair to call Stranger Things a cultural phenomenon. It’s faithfulness to the time periods the story moves through, Easter eggs and intriguing story have won it a lot of fans. The link to DnD that is key throughout the series’ stories has given it a special place in gamers hearts too. That puts some pressure on games based on the IP while arguably also giving a rich well of theme to explore. The latest game to attempt this is Attack of the Mind Flayer. I’m just going to say it right at the start – in terms of theme this is a loose connection at best. In fact the link to Stranger Things might actually do more harm than good. With that said how does the game play hold up itself?
People Are Strange
The game play in Attack of the Mind Flayer is basically a simpler Mafia/Werewolf style deduction game. While those games have been around for a long time and developed new rules and roles, AotMF instead strips things back to only two roles – possessed or sane.
Depending on player count a number of players will start the game possessed and seek to possess all the other players while sane players seek to survive and/or knock out possessed players.
If you are wondering whether this means the game includes player elimination, well yes it does, and yes it sucks. It sucks particularly hard in AotMF because the game is so easy to play, that often you will be playing with new or young players. The worst experience of playing a game is one where you don’t get to play, and it happens. Often.
Thankfully offsetting this slightly is the short game length. It will generally take 15-20 minutes to play one full game, although there is a way to score points over multiple games. Players start the game by choosing one of the sort of recognisable characters from the show. Not only is the art style weird and sometimes almost comically so, but there is an omission of characters too. Billy is available but Hopper is not for example.
Players are then dealt a card which will either be a waffle or a Mind Flayer. Waffle players are sane and Mind Flayers are possessed. If there are more than six players everyone closes their eyes and the possessed players identify themselves to each other.
Each player is dealt a further three cards, for a total of four hand cards. The draw deck is perforated by three events cards, one of which goes at the bottom. If you get through the deck the game will end, but it will also end if there are only 1 or 2 active players left.
On a players turn they reveal a card from the deck and give it to one of the other players. Three times a game a meeting card will be revealed. When it is the player who drew it resolves it and then without any speaking each player places a card from their hand on the player to the left and the player to the right’s character tiles. Once everyone has done this all players shuffle those cards and add them to their hand. Sane players cannot pass Mind Flayer cards during this stage. Player resolves with the next player after everyone checks if they have now been knocked out.
Cards come in 5 types, Waffles are points if you play more than one game, if you have three Mind Flayer cards in hand you change team to the possessed team, but don’t tell anyone. Memories card cancel the effect of one Mind Flayer card but only if you aren’t already possessed. If you have Hard Hit cards in your hand you are knocked out. You place all your cards under your character tile and flip it over. You are essentially out of the game but can still win with your team. Helping Hand cards operate like Memories cards but for Hard Hits.
As an introduction to social deduction games, Attack of the Mind Flayer is ok, but it would be so much better without player elimination. Bluffing mainly comes down to lying about what cards you have and what cards you were given during a meeting. Which is fine, but becomes a little mathy when you have to remember how many cards people have minus the relevant Memories or Helping Hand Cards.
That’s not to say there isn’t fun to be had. Bluffing games handle betrayal and surprise well. In small doses AofMF is adequate at filling a social deduction gap, it’s just that there are far better options out there. Avalon and The Resistance are the obvious choices, or Secret Hitler if it’s too your taste. If you want quick bluffing then it’s hard to look past Cockroach Poker.
The back of the AofMF box claims this is an innovative deduction game, unfortunately it’s not. The meta doesn’t really develop and the choices you have to make are simple, but quickly becoming unsatisfying, especially if you are use to cleverer, deeper deduction and bluffing. The pasted on theme of Stranger Things doesn’t help the game or the brand either.
I don’t think it is terrible, it does provide a gentle introduction to social deduction. However, I can’t really recommend the game to fans of the theme or fans of the mechanic. But if you are looking for a quick, easy to grasp game then you may have more milage.